John Olsen Reviews the Stories in The Shadow #81
Review written and copyrighted by John Olsen; used with permission
“Murder Every Hour” was originally published in the June 1, 1935 issue of The Shadow Magazine. As this title indicates, this is a murder mystery. The Shadow has a series of related murders to solve. Yet, the only suspects who could have done it have alibis that are unshakable. It will take the amazing deductive powers of The Shadow to figure this one out.
When I first read the title of this pulp novel, I thought to myself, “Murder Every Hour... for how long? For 24 hours? For a week? For a month? Boy, that could make for a lot of murders!” But, no, as it turns out there is no wholesale murder on a mass scale. That was more the domain of “The Spider” in pulp terms. In this particular case, we’re dealing with a much smaller scale.
There are three murders. One at five p.m., one at six p.m. and one at seven p.m. So we’re basically talking about a two-hour timespan with murder on the hour. Hey, maybe that would have made a better title: MURDER ON THE HOUR. Or maybe at least it would have been a little bit more accurate.
Other pulp heroes dealt with murder and mayhem on a larger scale. Operator Five worked on a national scale as entire nations erupted in flames. The Spider’s adventures often found entire cities destroyed. Doc Savage worked with fantastic science on an international scale. But The Shadow dealt with crime on a smaller scale, often just a murder or two. Or, in this case, three. Three murders, one every hour.
First to die was inventor Jeremy Lentz. Lentz had designed a new metal alloy which he named Duro Metal. Strong yet light, it was perfect for the manufacture of all-metal aircraft. Light alloys like this were of vital importance as war materials. World War II hadn’t begun, yet, but tensions were running high in Europe and the signs were clear. Metal aircraft must replace the more flimsy fabric coverings for the inevitable upcoming conflict. So a light metal alloy was a hot commodity.
There were two other people with competing alloys: Philo Dreblin with his “Calthite” and Hiram Caffley with “Ferroluminum.” Jeremy Lentz was offering the formula for his “Duro Metal” to both of these men. Neither really needed it, but since “Duro Metal” could be produced cheaper than their own alloys, it would be financial suicide to allow the new alloy to make it to market. They would be undersold and forced out of business. Hence the motive for the death of Jeremy Lentz. At die he did... at five p.m. Shot in his office while buying cigars.
The second to die was Howard Morath, a shyster lawyer who represented Jeremy Lentz. He died at six p.m. Shot outside his apartment, found by the elevator operator. Third to die was Newell Frieth, the high-pressure promoter hired by Lentz to sell his Duro Metal formula. Frieth died at seven p.m. Shot in his bedroom, discovered by the house detective.
So, who dunnit? Was it Philo Dreblin, owner of Calthite? Or his private investigator Kip Nethro? Or competitor Hiram Caffley, owner of Ferroluminum? Maybe the strange cigar salesman? The elevator operator? The house detective? Or the tall man in the gray overcoat? The police find clues: the cheroot cigar, the distinctive heelprint, the death weapon - an old-fashioned muzzle-loading pistol... but can’t make sense out of any of them. Sounds like a job for The Shadow! Only The Shadow can outwit the mastermind behind this evil scheme. The Shadow picks up the trail and we’re off on a rousing mystery tale.
The Shadow gets assistance from his usual agents in this tale. Harry Vincent works undercover as Philo Dreblin’s secretary. Investment broker Rutledge Mann is responsible for placing Vincent in that job. Underworld contacts Hawkeye and Cliff Marsland get to stake out an old house, and capture a suspect for The Shadow’s interrogation. Reporter Clyde Burke helps track down one of the missing suspects. The Shadow is chauffeured between crime scenes by New York’s most able hackie, Moe Shrevnitz. And contact-man Burbank keeps communications efficient between all the agents and their master.
The police are out in full force as well. New York Police Detective Joe Cardona gets plenty of action, along with his cohorts Sergeant Markham and Inspector Klein. Wainwright Barth is the acting police commissioner. Regular commissioner Ralph Weston is on his way back from Garauca, where he spent some months organizing their national police force. He’s currently in Bermuda, and Barth is anxious to wrap up this case before Weston’s return.
This is not your typical Walter Gibson authored Shadow pulp novel. There were several things that make this story stand out. One of the biggest differences is the characterization of The Shadow when he’s disguised as Lamont Cranston.
In the typical pulp adventure, when The Shadow takes the disguise of Lamont Cranston, he always is careful to hide his true abilities. He is always calm and leisurely. He occasionally shows glimpses of his keen mind, but never of his physical abilities. In this story, however, he is nearly blatant in showing off his deductive powers. And he frequently displays his quick reflexes and amazing strength in front of Detective Cardona and others. What’s with this? When The Shadow is in his Cranston disguise, he always hides his abilities. But not in this story. It almost makes a person wonder if Walter Gibson really wrote this. But records indicate that, yes, he did!
Usually, when dressed in his black cloak and slouch hat, The Shadow interrogates his prisoners on the spot. But when The Shadow takes a prisoner to his secret sanctum to be grilled, that’s most unusual. It’s a singular occurance! In this story, The Shadow’s agents capture a small-time pickpocket and deliver him to The Shadow. He awakes in the dark room with the blue light, where The Shadow gets information from him without much need for persuasion.
After the questioning, how does The Shadow get the prisoner out of the sanctum without revealing its secret location? “A black-gloved hand came forth from darkness, carrying a glass tumbler filled with greenish liquid.” The Shadow commands the thug to drink. He does, whereupon he passes out. Serves him right; everybody should know the obvious: don’t drink greenish liquids! (Except on St. Patrick’s Day... that’s different.)
We aren’t told where The Shadow takes the unconscious man, after this. He just disappears. He has given his information and has served his purpose. But his presence in the most secret sanctum is worthy of note. This is perhaps the only time that The Shadow voluntarily permitted anyone inside his sanctum. The two or three other occasions were involuntary invasions.
Another thing that makes this story an atypical Shadow mystery is the unusual display of technological gadgetry. In this story, The Shadow employs the use of a remote-controlled taxi complete with radio transmitter. He uses it to trick the gangsters by having the taxi drive up to a brownstone house and stop. His voice comes through the window on the driver’s side, just as though he were driving the car. In reality, the car is empty. A radio receiver/amplifier and the remote control device provide the illusion. The Shadow rarely relies on gadgetry in Gibson’s other stories.
And there’s the typewriter clicker. An odd-looking contrivance to which, when plugged into electricity, begins to click in the fashion of a typewriter. There are pauses in its sounds; tinkles of bells; noises that resemble the sliding of a typewriter carriage. Agent Harry Vincent uses this machine to fool others into thinking he is typing in his room, while he is in reality out of his room investigating for The Shadow.
This unique apparatus was used four months earlier in the story “The Plot Master.” These are the only two appearances of the auto-typer. Normally, The Shadow would forgo such gadgetry, and would leave such things for other pulp heroes, more notably Doc Savage.
And speaking of Doc Savage, we get to see The Shadow imitate voices in this story. That’s an ability for which Doc Savage was famous. But The Shadow could do it, too. In this story, he gives the quavering simulation of a suspect’s voice over the phone, to fool the suspect’s henchmen. The Doc Savage pulps had made their debut about two years earlier, and were obviously making their impression on other pulp characters.
I think you’ll find this a somewhat unusual Shadow mystery from 1935. It’s a straightforward murder mystery, but there’s a twist to the usual characterizations that boosts the “fun factor” a bit. It raises the story from the routine murder tale to an interesting and exciting romp with The Shadow.
“The Time Master” was published in the April 1, 1941 issue of “The Shadow Magazine.” Armand Thull is the master of time. Everything is timed down to the second. He lives his entire life by the perfectly accurate pocket watch he constantly carries with him. And his life includes crime. Unstoppable crime that is timed impeccably down to the split-second. It will take The Shadow’s skill and cunning to stop the unstoppable Time Master.
Armand Thull is a stooped old man who runs a small one-man mail-order business. He’s a gray-haired, unassuming codger who’s always punctual. You can set your clock by him. And Tony the barber does just that. Every day at five thirty, Armand Thull enters his barber shop to buy a five-cent cigar. Tony actually does set his clock by Thull’s daily visits. And thus, Tony becomes an unwitting alibi for the Time Master.
Today, Armand Thull is on his way to commit another in a string of crimes. This time, he masterminds the robbery at the Coastal Jewelry Exchange, located on the tenth floor of an office building on the East Side. His gang prepares to make off with a hundred-thousand-dollars’ worth of jewelry. But The Shadow is on the way to thwart the evil scheme.
Before this current robbery, there had been others. Robberies that were obviously the work of a skilled band, under a competent leader. Crimes that had been perfectly timed. The underworld was all abuzz, talking about those crimes. And The Shadow had been following them, gathering data in order to predict the next target of the Time Master’s band.
The Shadow has predicted that the Coastal Jewelry Exchange will be next, but he arrives too late. The robbery has been completed and the robbers themselves are escaping as he arrives. With the assistance of his cabbie Moe Shrevnitz, The Shadow gives chase. But with split-second timing, the Time Master eludes the grasp of The Shadow. And thus, another robbery has been perfectly executed by the Time Master.
Where will the Time Master strike next? How will he use time to his advantage? Can even The Shadow stop this criminal genius? Only The Shadow has a ghost of a chance to succeed against the human clock known only as the Time Master.
Assisting The Shadow in this rousing adventure is taxi-driver Moe Shrevnitz. It’s mentioned in this story that Moe also goes by the nickname of Shrevvy, but he’s never actually called Shrevvy here. People often assume that when Margo Lane joined the pulp stories, brought over from the Shadow radio series, she brought the nickname Shrevvy along with her. Shrevvy was the name used on the radio show. But this story belies that assumption; Moe Shrevnitz was referred to as Shrevvy here, and Margo Lane’s introduction to the pulps was still several months away.
No other aides of The Shadow are present, although contact man Burbank does appear briefly in one scene. There is no proxy hero in this story, either. It’s just the story of one man’s battle against the evil of the Time Master.
Supporting the forces of the law are Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and Inspector Joe Cardona. In this story, Commissioner Weston knows that The Shadow exists and talks to Lamont Cranston about him. In the early stories, you may remember, Weston refused to believe in the existence of The Shadow. But by 1941, his refusal to believe in The Shadow is strictly limited to his official statements. Unofficially, he admits that The Shadow is real.
The Shadow appears in this story in his often-used disguise as Lamont Cranston. No mention is made of the real Lamont Cranston, and a casual reader not familiar with the characters might tend to believe that The Shadow really is Cranston. Nothing is said of The Shadow’s ability at disguise or makeup, so that possible misconception may have been intentional. Perhaps it was a partial concession to the radio show, in which Cranston really was The Shadow. Just as the nickname Shrevvy was obviously a concession to the radio show, where the name had been used from the beginning of the dramas in 1937.
A couple notes of interest. We get to visit Red Mike’s, the underground dive and former speakeasy. Red Mike, you may remember was originally the proprietor of The Black Ship, but later left to open a place of his own. Red Mike was a long-running character who first appeared in the second Shadow novel and continued appearing occasionally until his final show in 1945’s “A Quarter of Eight.” The name Red Mike came, not from his hair color, but from his beefy red face.
In the various Shadow novels, we see The Shadow signal his agents using a colored flashlight. That method of communication shows up in this story as well, when The Shadow flashes a signal to Moe Shrevnitz from a building rooftop. It’s good to know he continues to carry that along with him under the cloak.
In a departure from the norm, the villain doesn’t die at the end of the story. He does die; but he dies earlier in the story, not at the end. In most Shadow pulp stories, The Shadow mops up the gang and leaves the master criminal to the end. But in this story, the Time Master meets his demise in chapter eighteen. Then the final two chapters are spent in wiping out the remaining fragments of the gang and reclaiming the loot from the robberies.
This story makes a nice change of pace from the typical Shadow novel. Don’t be fooled by the title; this is no science-fiction time-travel story. It’s the story of a criminal mastermind who has mastered split-second timing to achieve his stunning criminal victories. It’s a fun story. I liked it.